Recipe for Resilience

Resilience in the face of fear and uncertainty and pain is a funny thing. I’ve always known crafting and then using your own strength is not an easy process, or a straightforward one, or a happy one, but I’ve always believed in my ability to do it. Though being diagnosed with terminal cancer is probably the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with, it’s not the only hardship that’s been thrown at me. That series of difficulties — and, in the words of a friend I spoke with last night, “Jesus, Kiara, you’ve faced too much” — have strengthened me and made me who I am. That’s something I believe — have always believed — wholeheartedly: if we face and acknowledge the pain, fear, and misery of our hardships, process them with the support and perspective of those around us and at the pace our difficulty demand, we will develop lasting resilience and strength. This is not a one off process, it’s one that needs to be repeated time and time again.

So here’s the thing about the core of yourself, when it’s defined by resilience and strength. It’s nothing you’re born with. It’s nothing you acquire by a function of time or patience. It’s something you have to work actively and hard for, time and time again — something that only comes when you take the difficulty you’re handed and face it head on, process it openly, articulate its effects, and work through with the support of a community that can not only hold you up in your weak moments, but can also remind you that you can develop the strength to get through those moments. Bravery isn’t silent resistance or gritting your teeth and baring it. Bravery is knowing that the road is often rocky and frustrating, but knowing that that road is part of the journey, and your ability to see it through, face its difficulties and learn from them, will lead to better and more promising moments later on.

I’ve often been told I’m courageous and strong. I think I’m finally starting to understand what that means. Because I’m not always together or composed. I have awful, frustrating, angry, sad moments. I have days when all I want to do is scream. And, from a long road of trial and error, I’ve learned the best thing to do with those emotions is to let them out, be honest about them, and think actively about how I best need to process them to understand them. I’ve found great solace in those I can rely on in my worst moments, who can help me with that process and remain strong when I’m not. Because getting fear and pain out of your head not only clears up your own thinking, but gives you the opportunity to gather strength and perspective from those around you.

I think that’s another thing about being strong — perspective. In even my worst moments, I’ve been able to look at what’s happening and say — albeit sometimes very softly, and to myself — this is a function of time, not of myself. Having the perspective to know that most often misery is temporary and something I can actively work through, rather than tamp down and run from, is incredibly soothing. It’s difficult, because misery is one of those all encompassing emotions that often looks and feels more long lasting than it is. And, with the added bonus of my diagnosis, misery and fear are things I will constantly battle. But still, the fact remains — even the most awful effects and emotions that accompany my diagnosis are not all encompassing and can be moved through. Sometimes they take awhile, and that process can look awful, but it is possible. The last month and a half since my diagnosis have often looked and felt awful, but in the last week or so, things have been looking up. I’ve been having more good days than bad, and been better at managing and understanding the bad ones. I’ve been feeling more stable and steady, more strong on my own two feet. The perspective I maintained, even in my worst moments, told me this time was coming and made the worst moments worth living through.

Fear and pain are there — will be there — for every step of my life. Sometimes they will seem overwhelming, sometimes they will seem manageable. I’ll have rough days when I need the strength and support of those around me, but I’ll also have better days when I feel more equipped to deal with what’s thrown at me. Placing all those days in the larger perspective of my life and all the good it can offer is key; understanding the true cause of misery and fear alleviates us from the dangers that come when we don’t see our actions in broader contexts. When we try to manage overwhelming pain or fear or misery or anger on our own, it eats away at our strength and grows so large in our heads that it swallows everything else and becomes unbearable. But with the help and perspective of those outside our situations, we can better move through, process, and learn from even our most trying situations.

And that’s another thing I’ve learned — I need to be surrounded by people who are as strong and resilient and brave as I am. Because I need people around me who have gone through that process of facing pain head on and dealing with it, who understand that we need love and support around us — the kind of love I wrote about in my last post about Super Supportive Roommate. We need — and especially I need — people who are equipped to deal with us at our worst moments and help us through them. Because worst moments never go away. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that hardship is a fact of life. And we know that real, major hardship isn’t something we process in a day, or a week, or even sometimes a month. Major hardships are just that — hard — and often the work we do to move through them to the other side is ugly, frustrating, and horrifying. But moving through them, rather than running from them, is key because that is an ongoing process that, while it includes a lot of difficulty, also breeds a lot of strength.

And that’s where I think resilience comes from. From those moments that are difficult, and ugly, and fearful. From out of our worst moments we can harvest good ones and the faith that, as those worst moments get less frequent and more manageable (as they have been for me in the last week or so), the good ones will become more prevalent. Because that’s the other side of strength and resilience — knowing that the ugly process of developing courage and the ability to cope with pain and misery ultimately brings a more lasting, inner, and real happiness.

I can never opt out of my life, which means I have a lot of pain and misery to face going forward. Yet I know that I can rise to the occasion of what is thrown at me and the effects it produces because with the experience of great pain comes the potential for great happiness and the very real growth of great courage. From within my own sense of courage, I’m starting to find that happiness again. It was a long, difficult, and trying road, but I think I’ve finally arrived.

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2 thoughts on “Recipe for Resilience

  1. Well done, girl. Your faith in yourself and your courage and your strength is exceeded only by our own.  If we can reflect back to you even a fraction of the grace you so brilliantly display, we will all get through whatever’s on the horizon. You’re the shining star in our private universes.

  2. Your posts inspire me. I check frequently for updates. Thanks for keeping us up with your life. I am impressed with the content of who you are. Your parents must be incredible people to have raised you to be the person you have become.
    I once had the “love of my life” walk out on me because he didn’t want to get married to someone with a dysfunctional family (ha, shoulda met his fam). Thankfully a REAL man came along. I would have been “ok” had he not as I had REAL friends and family who loved me for me and didn’t care about the baggage I came along with (I can fill many large suitcases).

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